Aug 30, 2018; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) works against Los Angeles Rams offensive tackle Darrell Williams (63) during the first half of a preseason game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

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Seth Dunlap's NFL Power 12 rankings - Week 9: NFC heavyweights collide

The latest playoff projections

Seth Dunlap
October 30, 2018 - 7:57 pm
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There aren’t any “dog days” of the NFL season.  No, instead we get a November cornucopia of division grudge-matches, battles for conference supremacy, and possible Super Bowl previews.

That begins this week with perhaps the game-of-the-year in the league between NFC heavyweights Los Angeles and New Orleans.  The Rams and Saints have a combined 14-1 record and currently have the first and fourth best odds, respectively, to win the Super Bowl.  While they seem like near-locks at this point to meet again in the conference championship game – does anybody else in the NFC look like legitimate challengers to these two teams at this point? – there’s no guarantee they’ll meet again in the post-season.  Heck, with how Carolina is playing the Saints are still being challenged within their own division.

That clash of titans is also a battle between two teams that have held the #1 and #2 spots in our Power 12 Rankings for the past three weeks.  These are the two best teams in football, and I’m not really sure it’s all that close right now.

About those rankings and playoff projections – they’ve stabilized over the past two weeks.  Actually, they should stabilize throughout the rest of the season as it’s becoming relatively clear which teams in each conference have the inside track to playoff berths.  There’s only one team dropping out of the rankings from last week.

The most intriguing race to watch, still, is for the NFC Wild Card spots.  The Packers are dangerously close to falling too far behind the Bears, Seahawks, and Panthers in the NFC, while the Eagles stayed in the hunt with a huge, possibly season-saving, win in London over the Jaguars.   Handicapping this race is next to impossible, but looking at the remaining schedules continues to provide some clarity.  The Bears and Panthers hold the edge here, with Seattle possibly playing spoiler but needing a win in Carolina during Thanksgiving week to solidify their spot. 

As we predicted at the beginning of the season, there just aren’t enough playoff berths for the amount of darn good teams in the NFC this season.  

Let’s get to the rankings for Week 9.  Again, these are the dozen teams I’m currently predicting to make the playoffs.  This isn’t a list of what I think are the 12 best teams in football.  Check out the unlimited barrage of those regular power rankings elsewhere for that.

 

NFL Power 12 - Week 9

1.  Los Angeles Rams (8-0) LW-#1:  The Rams once again survived a scare from an NFC playoff contender.  That marks at least the third such escape act from McVay the Magician and his troup of L.A. rock stars, with one possession wins over the Vikings, Seahawks, and Packers over the past month, with a three point win over the Broncos sprinkled in.  If Ty Montgomery doesn’t fumble that kickoff return, Aaron Rodgers probably leads the Packers towards a game-winning field goal from Mason Crosby, but hey, thems the breaks. Last week: W 29-27 vs. GB, This week: @ NO

2.  New Orleans Saints (6-1) LW-#2:  The Saints didn’t need any fourth-quarter fortune against the Vikings, as they exorcised their Minneapolis demons by demolishing what still looks like one of the best teams in the conference.  That win gives the Saints tiebreaker advantages over Minnesota and Washington, the current NFC East leaders.  While the Panthers are still on their heels in the NFC South, the Saints are putting themselves in excellent position to grab a top-two playoff seed and a first round bye.  Beat the Rams, and the NFC playoffs very likely will run through New Orleans.   Last week:  W 30-20 @ MIN, This week: vs. LAR

3.  New England Patriots (6-2) LW-#3:  The Patriots continued to feast on the sacrificial lambs in their division, and still have four games remaining inside the AFC East.  Before that happens, we do get a rare treat – Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady for only the second time ever.  That seems impossible, considering the two men have been playing at a Hall-of-Fame-level football for the past decade-plus, but they’ve only faced each other once before due to an Rodgers injury in 2010.   Last week: W 25-6 @ BUF, This week: vs. GB

4.  Kansas City Chiefs (7-1) LW-#4:  Other defenses across the AFC need to be watching both Chiefs-Broncos games from this season, as Denver held Kansas City to 30 points or less in both of their match-ups this season.  Air Mahomes & Co. have scored at least 38 points in five of their other six games.  The Chiefs can’t afford any losses with red-hot New England just one game back of them for first place in the conference. Last week:  W 30-23 vs. DEN, This week: @ CLE

5.  Washington (5-2) LW-8:  Does the best NFL defense reside on the Potomac? Washington has played seven games, and they’ve held their opponents to 21 points or less in six of them -- five times their opposition hasn’t eclipsed 17 points.  Read that again.  That’s a bit absurd in the 2018 version of the NFL.  Why isn’t anybody talking about this?  This is one of the best, most surprising storylines of the season so far.  Last week: W 20-13 @ NYG, This week: vs. ATL

6.  Los Angeles Chargers (5-2) LW-6:  The Chargers come off the bye rested, but not fully healthy.  Star defensive end Joey Bosa doesn’t look like he’ll be back on the field this week, and the timetable for his return remains a bit murky.  The Bolts head up to Seattle to try and win a football game in a place that few others, besides the Rams, have solved in recent years.  Last week: BYE,  This week: @ Seattle

7.  Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2-1) LW-9:  Imagine the toasts inside Steelers headquarters when learning their 33-18 dispatching of Cleveland helped lead to the firing of Browns’ offensive coordinator Todd Haley, still persona-non-grata in Pittsburgh.  The Steelers are quietly becoming the contender everybody thought they’d be, winning three straight with a chance to really cripple rival Baltimore’s playoff chances this week.  Last Week: W vs. CLE 33-18, This week: @ BAL

8.  Carolina Panthers (5-2) LW-#10:  Ron Rivera could win the next dozen NFL Coach of the Year awards and I probably wouldn’t argue with it.  Yet again, the Panthers are an unexpected 5-2 after their drubbing of media-darling Baltimore last week.  Seriously, fans have been flooded with coverage on how the Ravens are actually contenders this year despite their record while nobody pays attention to the Little Franchise that Could in Charlotte.  Buy your Panthers stock now, as it’s still going to climb.  Last week:  W 36-21 vs. Baltimore, This week: vs. TB

9.  Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) LW-#12:  It seems like ridiculous hyperbole to classify the Eagles win in London against the Jaguars as a “season-saver”, but they can’t afford any more losses in games they’re favored with Washington entrenched as NFC East favorites and multiple Wild-Card contenders with legitimate paths to 10 wins.  Very nice week for the bye, which will allow a bit of a reset for the offense as they tune up for the five division games on the back-half of their schedule.  Last week:  W 24-18 vs. JAX (London), This week: BYE

10.  Houston Texans (5-3) LW-#11:  Make it five straight wins for the surging Texans, but let’s dispense with any Texans-as-contenders headlines yet, please.  We saw this same madness last season when Houston was beating up on a bunch of also-rans on their mid-season schedule.  Well, Houston has feasted on the Colts, Cowboys, Bills, Jaguars, and Dolphins.  There’s likely not one playoff team in that mix, and there might not be a team that finishes above .500.  The Texans look like the class of the AFC South, but that’s a bit like being valedictorian at summer school. Last week:  W 42-23 vs. MIA, This week: @ Broncos

11. Minnesota Vikings (4-3-1) LW-#5:  The Vikings have had three chances to prove they belong among the NFC’s elite.  Twice, they’ve failed those tests.   They were handled by the Rams in Los Angeles in September, and were thoroughly dominated on Sunday night by the Saints.  The Vikings schedule is Brutal (capital B needed) the second half of the season with at least six games against playoff contenders.  Eight games if you count the Lions in that mix. They may be better than Chicago, but they’re going to have to win basically every remaining game they’re favored in – likely five – and probably sweep the Bears to win the division. They just edge out the Bears on this list as the Vikings seem to be the more talented team at nearly every position group, but the November 18th game in Chicago will decide the front-runner in that battle.  Last week:  L 30-20 @ NO, This week: vs. DET

12.  Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) LW-UR:  The Bengals keep playing switcharoo with the Ravens in these rankings, and it does look like both teams will be battling with Pittsburgh for at least two playoff spots – one for the AFC North champion and a Wild Card spot.  The Bengals survived a furious #FitzMagic propelled comeback from the Bucs last week, and now get a bye to rest up for the second half of their schedule.  Last week:  W 37-34 vs. TB, This week: BYE

 

Dropping out: 

  • Baltimore – LW #7

Previous Week's Rankings

 

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